Eli glanced around the empty helicopter before dropping his head into his hands. He hoped more of his friends would attend the Society meeting this year. They needed to work together right now. But it appeared they had given up. He traveled alone.
He placed a hand on the seat beside him as his eyes welled up. Marquesa didn't give up. She died three months ago, before her 90th birthday. When news of her illness reached him, he dropped everything and raced to Italy. A few weeks after her death, devastating fires ravaged half of Milan, including her home and her legacy.
Earth's destruction had begun, but they were nowhere close to meeting their goals. They established a modest colony on the moon and launched thirteen space stations designed to house small communities. But no one had even landed on Mars yet and the outer colonies needed basic supply runs for their survival. How long would those continue?
He ran his hand through his hair as the helicopter settled. Eli hoped he wasn't the only person there. There must be other Society members who still planned to salvage the mess climate change caused. He couldn't be alone.
The private island owned by Roger Baas reflected Eli's thoughts. Under usual conditions, the estate hummed with sounds of laughing and clinking dishes as servers scurried back and forth with delicacy-laden silver trays. The quiet weighed upon him.
When he arrived at the dining hall, he inhaled as he counted. Nine people. Although only a tiny fraction of their original membership remained, they hadn't all pulled out. He nodded, and they acknowledged him with an equal measure of solemnity.
Roger turned towards him as he finished his conversation with Jasper Baines. "Eli."
Eli shrugged. "I came."
He smiled. "You did."
The remaining Society members looked around, waiting for Roger's opening statement. Eli took a seat beside Jasper.
As Eli settled in his chair, Roger stood up. "Ladies and Gentlemen, we failed." Everyone erupted in protest. He waited for silence before continuing. "But we total nine tonight, which means hope remains." He made eye contact with each person and offered them a smile. "Eight of the richest and most intelligent humans who live on Earth sit before me. Men and women who dedicated their lives to help humanity. It's too late for the planet, and our hopes to save it." Roger glanced at Eli. "Our plans to colonize Mars are no longer workable either." Then he looked forward as his palm slammed the table. "A solution has to be found! We must find another way." Then he sat.
They all stared at each other and shifted in their chairs. Eli took a deep breath, stretching out the tightness gripping his chest. Whenever he considered losing his space program, he felt like dying. "We can't abandon Mars! It's our best chance!"
Jasper frowned. "Eli, we've tried. The technology isn't ready and we're out of time. Climate change is irreversible now. We are nearing the end of life on our planet. We require another solution."
"But that is the plan! It's the only option. What else can we do if we don't reach Mars?
Jasper shrugged. "I don't know. But you're the only one who believes chasing Mars is a good idea currently." He turned to Roger. "I feel we need to bring our people back home. We must reserve our resources for a solution here."
Roger nodded. "He's right Eli. Living in space is harder than we expected and we don't have adequate time. The solutions to the obstacles we're facing are too big. Consider the loss of muscle mass and the illnesses that occur. Too many complications and not enough answers. Space is dead."
Before he could argue further, Yen Huiling leaned forward. "Wait. I brought you all something." She pulled a binder from her briefcase. "When my father lived among us, we dreamed of constructing the world's tallest building. We spoke with all the best architects." She handed out a stack of papers. "I asked them how tall one could be built, theoretically. When an architect told me he believed he could build a structure taller than Mount Everest, I paid him to create a design." While they looked the project over, she tapped her file. "We have our hope here."
Eli peered at the paper she handed him. As he reviewed the idea, a huge grin appeared. "These things are colossal, Yen!"
She nodded. "Yes. And each one is going to cost billions of dollars. But it gets us off the surface, where most of the havoc caused by climate change will occur. They're tall and we'll need medicine and a plan to counteract the reduced gravity. But they're close enough to Earth that we can treat the effects without a strain on our resources. They are suitably sturdy and should withstand storms and flooding. If we act fast, we may even have time to develop solar power systems and ways to generate food inside of them. They will be giant, self-sustaining cities in the sky."
Eli whistled. "You've really thought everything through, haven't you?"
Eli glanced at Roger. "Can we invest in space once we get these established?"
Roger studied the plan again. "Maybe. It might not happen before you die."
Eli squared his shoulders. "That's fine. I never imagined we'd make it in my lifetime, anyway. As long as the dream lives and Earth survives, I'm okay." He looked at his copy. "We can do this. I'll start building one in Texas right away. There's plenty of open space to allow for such a large footprint."
Jasper shook his head as he examined his plan. "I don't own a big enough tract of land now. I'll look for something when I arrive in Washington.
Yen leaned back in her chair. "I've already started construction of two in China. And I'm working with someone on constructing a third next month."
They all agreed to begin work on the giant buildings as soon as possible so people could escape before climate change made Earth uninhabitable. They wouldn't provide shelter for everyone, but they could save some. Eli's chest swelled. They weren't too late after all. They could still preserve the human race.